By Waheeda Essop (Occupational Therapist)

Imagine an early morning drive through the safari, the air is fresh, the horizon transitioning from deep orange to golden hues. You spot a few antelope in the distance, drinking from a watering hole. The open field is dry with a whisper of buzzing and murmurs of tweeting…

By reading this, your brain has set the scene for this little story. If you have seen these animals or perhaps a similar scene, your brain will naturally add more details to the scene. This is your imagination, the faculty of creating new ideas or images not accessible to the senses. It is the imagination that feeds the way to creativity or the invention of original ideas.

For growing children their brain makes the transition from the concrete to the abstract slowly. This begins in a baby’s early years. This first game we play with babies to help develop this is peek-a-boo, to give rise to the concept of object permanence. Through play and communication they learn to associate words, develop concepts and visualize something that is not in front of them.

One of the most important tools in developing the abstract mind, is reading. When we read a book or listen to a story, we have nothing to assist our mental picture besides words or maybe an illustrated drawing. Fully understanding the story is solely generated by our mind’s ability.  

While being on a screen or watching television provides endless visual stimuli to a child, it leaves little to the imagination. Think of the difference of having read a classic novel and then watching the movie, and vice-versa. While reading you have created the characters, you imagined their outfits and built their sets in your mind. When watching a screen, all of this is given to you (likely not as good too), leaving virtually nothing to the imagination.

So when children spend time on the screen they are not given the opportunity to imagine, think stuff up, create characters or dream the impossible. Their mind’s platform is curtailed resulting in a lack of creativity or a passion to invent. This may well be left untampered for many years to come. 

Limiting screentime, is as per usual, part of the solution. Having children read regularly, is another. Story time is a daily must for children, from babies to school years. They are encouraged to read independently thereafter. Also ensure that children spend enough time in the picture-book phase, as too-quick a transition may result in them losing interest in reading. Be sure to add animated expressions, cool voice impressions and dramatic sound effects when reading to your kids!

Another interesting way to stimulate the child artist, is to offer them a blank canvas. If you give children a picture to copy or activity to imitate, you are limiting their brain action to a specific area. When given a ‘blank canvas’, they have to visualize more, allowing them to tap into their creative centres. So blank paper, an unwritten script, ingredients without a recipe and a ‘made up’ game is definitely the activity of the day. Also avoid too many instructions and rather throw ideas back to them by saying: “I’m not sure …what do you think we should do”. This is bound to get the creative juices flowing! 

Remember we all have a creative side, its merely a matter of using the correct tools to unlock them…

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